Celebrating Dostoevsky in contemporary culture

Embacy, a Russian design studio, made an interactive site dedicated to Dostoevsky and his contributions to pop culture. The site features the likes of Sigmund Freud, Columbo, The Simpsons, and Akira Kurosawa. I’ve yet to read Dostoevsky’s work but I’ve always been aware of his work. What I didn’t know was how far-reaching his legacy was in pop culture.

Maybe I’ll read Crime and Punishment one day (instead of just buying it for someone’s Christmas present)

The ghostly signs of London

A wall with a faded version of the old Boots Chemist logo on it
Photo by Roy Reed

Before abandoned billboards showing sun-faded adverts from your childhood, there were painted signs on walls that barely stood the test of time. In a new book called Ghost Signs: A London Story, Sam Roberts and Roy Reed look at London’s “ghost signs” and their history.

‘[The signs] are voices from the past, they are public pieces of history written for a past audience, we can only see them by the quirk of their survival,’ says Roberts. These typographic landmarks have survived against significant odds and have a precarious existence in an ever-changing urbanscape. ‘Very few are listed, and many may be lost in the future,’ Roberts adds.

(via The Spaces)

A directory of Black designers from around the world

Blacks Who Design is a directory of Black designers that aims to “inspire new designers, encourage people to diversify their feeds, and discover amazing individuals to join your team.” While the designers are mainly concentrated in North America (USA + Canada), there are designers from places like the UK, Poland, Nigeria, Kenya, and Germany to name a few. What’s more, it’s not just for Black designers as the site explains:

If you’re not a Black designer, this site’s for you too :)

Reply to a recruiter: Tired of recruiting emails? Instead of hitting archive, reply with a link to this site.

Target your mentoring: Dedicate your lunch breaks towards mentoring people that might not normally get access to you.

Volunteer: Consider blocking off some time to teach design to younger students.

It was also nice to see a few of my friends in there so definitely check it out.

Directory-related: Rememory: a creative directory for Black women and non-binary people and FlyGirl: a community and safe space for womxn

A blog post about popular fonts

Thanks to Pocket for inspiring this typographical rabbit hole.

The Tragicomedy of Digital Fonts by Frank Adebiaye

A piece on the rises, falls, mockeries, and triumphs of a range of fonts and their foundries including:

Monotype’s history is particularly interesting:

Monotype was saved from bankruptcy by making Arial for Microsoft, preventing the latter from paying huge royalties for Helvetica, then a Linotype asset. Linotype was eventually acquired by Monotype in 2006, so both Arial and Helvetica are Monotype assets now. But Arial and Helvetica are not the same typeface, Arial seems to be a kind of displacement of Helvetica, sharing mostly the same metrics but borrowing its shape from something much older[3]. (sic)

The fall and rise of Roboto

As mentioned in Frank Adebiaye’s article, Roboto was created by type critic and type curator Stephen Coles in 2011. It was initially regarded as a rip-off of Helvetica, DIN, and Univers so Google revamped the font 3 years later:

In response to the initial criticism, Robertson declared Roboto a “work-in-progress”, and went back to the drawing board. With the release of Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google introduced its new design language named Material Design, which would grow to become synonymous with all sorts of GUIs on Android. Part of this big overhaul was a typeface that was accessible and geometric while being able to convey a lot of information in a little space, and a completely reinvented Roboto played the role.

The changes were significant and it’s now used by billions of people who own Android devices.

Goodbye, Calibri

In April this year, Microsoft announced Calibri’s retirement after 15 years of typography service. It was a maligned font but it had a unique place in South Asian political history as it allegedly helped to expose corruption in Pakistan:

The Express Tribune says that Pakistan’s court-appointed investigators sent the documents off to a lab for examination. The lab noticed the discrepancy, with one of its experts saying that since “Calibri was not commercially available before 31st January 2007 … neither of the originals of the certified declarations is correctly dated and happy [sic] to have been created at some later point in time.”

There is still some complication here. Calibri was in existence before then, just in a very limited means. Sharif, who has said she rejects the report’s findings, has retweeted a screenshot of a Quora page saying that Calibri had been available in a Windows beta as early as 2004. It’s not clear that date is accurate, but Calibri does appear to have been available in some limited form at the time her documents are alleged to have been created.

Dawn asked the design company that created Calibri about the timeline. The company said that Calibri was delivered to Microsoft in finished form in 2004 and that the first public betas to include it were released in 2006. “We do not know the exact date for this public release date [but] it is [still] extremely unlikely that somebody would copy fonts from a beta environment to use in official documents,” said a representative for LucasFonts.

How IBM moved away from Helvetica

IBM created its own font—IBM Plex—in 2017 after decades of using Helvetica. The article’s author Anne Quito described the use of Helvetica as a “cold, modernist cliché”:

IBM has been spending over a million dollars every year to use Helvetica. What changed?

The opportunity came when graphic designer Mike Abbink joined IBM in 2015. With stints at brand strategy firms Wolff Olins and MetaDesign, where he worked for the renowned typographer Erik Spiekermann, Abbink developed an acuity for translating a company’s values into letterforms. He designed the uplifting Inspira typeface for GE and the lively NBCU Rock for NBC Universal.

“When I came to IBM, it was a big discussion: Why doesn’t IBM have a bespoke typeface? Why are we still clinging to Helvetica?…Helvetica was a child from a particular set of modernist thinking that’s gone today,” explains Abbink in an internal video. Helvetica was right for the IBM of the 1960s, when the company wanted to change its image as a maker of meat grinders and cheese slicers to one as a producer of advanced business machines.

IBM’s business has since changed again. From selling PCs and computer hardware, the $162 billion company has gone to making most of its revenue today from enterprise software for companies and governments around the world. Its marquee AI project, IBM Watson is, at its core, a multi-faceted meditation about the relationship between humans and machines.

I found it ironic that the original title for the article was “IBM has freed itself from the tyranny of Helvetica” given IBM’s collaboration with the Nazis during World War II (a hidden in plain sight discovery I only made a few weeks ago).

LogoArchive.Africa showcases the logos and trademarks of the African continent

The Zambian Airways logo shows a bird of prey in a Z shape in orange, inside a circle, on a brown background

A while back, I found an awesome Instagram account called LogoArchive.Africa. The account displays logos from a variety of African countries and, having followed the other LogoArchive accounts in the past, it was refreshing to see some non-European/American logos for a change. Its creator, ab.des1gn, also runs a Moroccan offshoot called LogoArchive.Morocco which you should check out.

Women in Type showcases the influential women of typography

Type is more than fancy serifs, sans-serifs, ligatures, and Helvetica everywhere. Women in Type is a brilliant interactive site that highlights the contributions of women in the type industry since the last century. There are a host of photos of women in printing studios and type drawing offices alongside links exploring feminism, technology, and their own stories. There’s also a reading list should you want to go further down the type rabbit hole.

I did notice a lack of Black women or women of colour at all amongst the photos (I maybe saw one woman of Far Eastern descent?) and while I’m sure there was sexism and racism within the industry—as with any—there must have been more than one or two that had a significant influence on type. Maybe there were more WoC in type outside of Europe but that might have taken this research project outside of its scope (head to the Credits section for the source of the photos).

To read more about the research project, head over to the University of Reading’s official page.

Is 'ugly design' good or bad for culture?

Creative director Andrea Trabucco-Campos wrote about the pros of ‘ugly design’ for Fast Company:

For a designer, “ugliness” hasn’t historically been something to strive for. Beauty has largely been a no-brainer when it comes to what’s desirable, or what constitutes “good” design.

Yet, culturally, we’re becoming increasingly fatigued by perfection. After years of brands behaving in similarly simple, orderly ways, we’re yearning for expressions that are less hygienic and altogether more human. When designers do away with old-fashioned principles that align “good” with “beautiful,” they have the freedom to make work that’s infinitely more creative. And in doing so, it’s more interesting—and more inclusive.

Design that destabilizes inherited “rules” around ugly and beautiful rewrites what’s seen as acceptable. It progresses visual culture by celebrating playfulness and forging intimacy by underscoring the limitations (and untruths) of perfection. It subtly helps everyone from brands to designers to consumers communicate more honestly.

Andrea also dives into the disciplines of typography, branding, and ‘ugly as democratization’.

An example of ugly design that I love is brutalism. I jokingly call brutalist buildings “arresting developments” because they are so stark, often cold, grey, and… brutal. Concepts like brutalism and dadaism follow Andrea’s idea of destabilization and serve as visual communication. That’s not to say I dislike modernism or minimalism (spoiler alert: I love them), and don’t think they have their place in design history and the present, but the world and its cultures would be a boring place if they were all we had. Embrace the ugly!

More on ‘ugly’ design: The surreal animations of Wong Ping, Boston’s brutalism, and Observe The Rugged Side Of The Internet With “Brutalist Websites”

Design Within Copy shows off design knock offs (and their knock offs)

Originality died a long time ago in design but companies aren’t even pretending to care at this point as Design Within Copy, an Instagram account dedicated to furniture design knock offs, demonstrates. One of my favourites from the account is Rachel Donath’s chair sets for Giovannetti Collezioni, which takes “inspiration” from a host of different designers. But it doesn’t end there as the furniture designs that Donath copied were copied themselves, from Walter Lamb and his 1940’s patio furniture collection.

I guess it boils down to where you draw the line between imitation, appropriation, and appreciation. But most of the furniture designs featured on Design Within Copy are closer to the former two.

'Repro Japan' and how Japanese culture has influenced the rest of the world

Lord knows we (the West) have a lot to thank Japan for in terms of pop culture and a new exhibit called ‘Repro Japan: Technologies of Popular Visual Culture‘ pays tribute to that influence. The exhibit is running at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) until 20th March 2022 and features an array of visual artefacts, from woodblock prints to anime cels.

This from Yuchan Kim, writing for The Williams Record:

The first thing I noticed walking into the exhibition is that Repro Japan feels like pieces of Japanese culture stitched together. It’s not organized by timeline, region, or style as you would expect at other exhibitions that survey a particular country’s culture. The two galleries are instead organized by rough groupings of mediums, ranging from textiles and woodblock prints to manga, 3D prints, and cosplay costumes and performances. 

As Kim said in his conclusion, it’s not a cohesive, all-rounded representation of Japanese visual culture (it’s in Massachusetts after all). But you’ve got to start somewhere and if it’s safe to do so and you’re in the area, go check it out.

Found out more on WCMA exhibit page.

The nostalgic packaging of Can Club

Selection box insert 🦜 ‘94

Instagram, for all its many faults, is a great place for nostalgia. I’ve featured a few of those accounts on this site and I’m here to add a new one: @itscanclub.

The account features mostly food packaging from the 80s and 90s and the odd carrier bag, old phonecard, and map. Anyone who grew up in the UK will get hit in the feels looking through this retro treasure trove and, given how the present and future are looking, it might offer some comfort to reminisce about the good times (if they were available back then). My personal favourites are the chocolate wrappers.

Retro packaging related: Carry A Bag Man’s carrier bag designs

The creative direction of Tyler Adams

Tyler Adams is a creative based in LA. He works predominately in casting, photography, and art direction and boasts clients such as BET, Def Jam Records, Nike, Stussy, and Warner Music Group.

There’s something very cool and understated about Tyler’s art direction. I like his use of lighting and colour and the mix of urban landscapes and personal portraits, sometimes in the same image.

In an interview for Full Service Radio (below), Tyler discussed his work style, what it’s like living in LA, and how he got into photography.